Observations from today’s readings and today’s S-WOD, Saturday, 21 May 2022:
Numbers 22:7 – “So the elders of Moab and the elders of Midian departed with the fees for divination in their hand. And they came to Balaam and gave him Balak’s message.”
The story of Balak and Balaam is quite fascinating and full of important lessons for us. Balaam was a false prophet who God used, much like God uses many wicked people, to fulfill His greater purposes. Through the story of Balaam, we can learn much about false prophets and the dangers of trying to use God’s word for selfish, man-centered ends.
At first glance, Balaam might appear somewhat noble in this chapter. Afterall, he does say to Balak and his princes, “I [can] not go beyond the command of the Lord my God to do less or more…. [and] The word that God puts in my mouth, that must I speak.” (Numbers 22:18, 38) However, if we look closer, we will see the true heart of Balaam, which is wicked.
Balaam earned a living ‘speaking for god’ and practicing divination for profit, which is clearly prohibited in God’s word (Deuteronomy 18:9-14), and he served as the agent of godless governments which practiced idolatry. The Bible has many warnings about false prophets, one being a warning against those who pedal the word of God for profit – “And in their greed they will exploit you with false words.” (2 Peter 2:3) What did Jesus say, “You received without paying; give without pay.” (Matthew 10:8)
Peter further expands upon his warnings about greedy false prophets, using Balaam as his example – “They entice unsteady souls. They have hearts trained in greed. Accursed children! Forsaking the right way, they have gone astray. They have followed the way of Balaam, the son of Beor, who loved gain from wrongdoing, but was rebuked for his own transgression; a speechless donkey spoke with human voice and restrained the prophet’s madness.” (2 Peter 2:14-16) Again, we should be careful not to assume that since God used Balaam to speak truth, Balaam was a worthy prophet. Likewise, we must be careful not to believe every preacher who claims to be sent by God. Judge the tree by its fruit.
- Matthew 7:15-23 — “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’”
To understand more about the dangers of false prophets, consider ‘the rest of the story,’ mentioned in Revelation, “But I have a few things against you: you have some there who hold the teaching of Balaam, who taught Balak to put a stumbling block before the sons of Israel, so that they might eat food sacrificed to idols and practice sexual immorality.” (Revelation 2:14) Balaam would later counsel Balak to sabotage the Israelites by enticing them to practice sexual immorality and idolatry, and it apparently worked as described in the verses below:
- Numbers 25:1-9 – “While Israel lived in Shittim, the people began to whore with the daughters of Moab. These invited the people to the sacrifices of their gods, and the people ate and bowed down to their gods. So Israel yoked himself to Baal of Peor. And the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel. And the Lord said to Moses, “Take all the chiefs of the people and hang them in the sun before the Lord, that the fierce anger of the Lord may turn away from Israel.” And Moses said to the judges of Israel, “Each of you kill those of his men who have yoked themselves to Baal of Peor.” And behold, one of the people of Israel came and brought a Midianite woman to his family, in the sight of Moses and in the sight of the whole congregation of the people of Israel, while they were weeping in the entrance of the tent of meeting. When Phinehas the son of Eleazar, son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose and left the congregation and took a spear in his hand and went after the man of Israel into the chamber and pierced both of them, the man of Israel and the woman through her belly. Thus the plague on the people of Israel was stopped. Nevertheless, those who died by the plague were twenty-four thousand.
- Numbers 31:16 – “Behold, these, on Balaam’s advice, caused the people of Israel to act treacherously against the Lord in the incident of Peor, and so the plague came among the congregation of the Lord.”
God’s people suffered by the teachings of an ungodly prophet supported by government officials, perhaps under a theme of maintaining peace among diverse population groups. God eventually dealt with Balaam the false prophet, “Balaam also, the son of Beor, the one who practiced divination, was killed with the sword by the people of Israel among the rest of their slain, (Joshua 13:22), but not before Balaam induced many Israelites to fall to sin. “For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Matthew 24:24) Today, not only has the government changed laws to support sexual immorality condemned by God, many churches now are endorsing it, even celebrating it. Who are the Balaks and Balaams of our day? Where do we stand?
A final point is that we must be careful personally not to make the mistake of Balaam by trying to use God’s word for our personal gain, such as to win an argument, to impress others, or to simply support our own sense of ‘righteousness.’ Whenever we use God’s word in a selfish or self-centered way, whenever we are representing our own self-interests, we are no longer serving as Christ’s ambassador; we have lost our authority, and have become false teachers – teaching from false motives.
Psalm 58:3-6, 10 — “Even from birth the wicked go astray, from the womb they are wayward and speak lies. Their venom is like the venom of a snake, like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears, that will not heed the tune of the charmer, however skillful the enchanter may be…. Break the teeth in their mouths, O God…. The righteous will be glad when they are avenged.”
The Bible says that we are all born sinners, trapped in sin; in fact, dead in sin, powerless to escape sin and to have spiritual life. There is no human remedy to sin, and no amount of education or social engineering can solve our sin problem. Will power can’t overcome sin, nor can laws. Only God can free us from sin and give us spiritual life and salvation through His Son, Jesus Christ. We can only be saved by faith in Jesus Christ, not by any human action and not through any other religion. None of us deserved salvation, but God gave it freely, while we were still sinners. So, isn’t it ironic that while living in a state of grace, totally reliant on God’s mercy, we demand justice be imparted on those who have offended us or hurt us? We proclaim mercy while demanding personal justice – how can this be? When we start to proclaim self-righteousness rather than righteousness through Christ, we have a serious problem. Key to love, faithfulness, forgiveness and compassion is having a right perspective on the condition from which we have been saved and the love we have received from the God who saves us.
- Luke 7:47 -- “I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” - Proverbs 17:13, 14 -- “If anyone returns evil for good, evil will not depart from his house. The beginning of strife is like letting out water, so quit before the quarrel breaks out.”
Proverbs 21:1 – “The king’s heart is a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it wherever he will.”
God uses national leaders to bless or punish the people of a nation. The best way for a nation to ensure great leaders is to repent.
Proverbs 21:2 – “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the heart.”
Only the Holy Spirit can reveal to you how you are deceiving yourself. Popular psychology recognizes the importance of being self-aware or introspective, but secular social sciences fail to solve social problems because only the Holy Spirit can expose and change the heart.
Proverbs 21:3 – “To do righteousness and justice is more acceptable to the Lord than sacrifice.”
Make your act of worship obedience to the Lord. Don’t try to make up for disobedience by doing some act that God never asked you to do in the first place. Just obey in the circumstances God puts before you, one day at a time.
Proverbs 21:9, 19 – “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife…. It is better to live in a desert land than with a quarrelsome and fretful woman.”
A quarrelsome and fretful person, whether it be a wife, husband, relative, close friend, or a business partner, can make your life miserable. Understand that your attitudes, words, and actions can have a dramatic impact on others. Someone said that people are like elevators, either bringing you up or bringing you down. What sort of elevator person are you? Some people are great at lifting up people outside of their homes while tearing down people within their homes – they treat friends better than family. However, the Bible says that if you don’t take care of your family, you are denying the faith. Do your friends like being with you more than your family does?
Proverbs 21:11 – “When a scoffer is punished, the simple becomes wise; when a wise man is instructed, he gains knowledge.”
Do you require punishment or merely instruction to do what God commands? Someone once said that wisdom is understanding what you have never experienced. Wise people learn from God’s word and from watching the truth of God’s word play out in the lives of others. For example, God’s word says, “Don’t commit adultery.” You can trust and obey God’s word, you can observe and see the destructive impact of adultery in the lives of others, or you can commit adultery and experience destruction for yourself. God gives you the ability and the freedom to choose. You own the responsibility, but God owns the accountability.
Proverbs 21:13 – “Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered.”
God often treats you the way you treat others. If you are praying to received something from God that you are not willing to give to others, God sees through that, and you should not expect to receive that for which you are asking.
Proverbs 21:16 – “One who wanders from the way of good sense will rest in the assembly of the dead.”
People wander into death by paying attention to something other than the Good Shepherd.
Proverbs 21:17 – “Whoever loves pleasure will be a poor man; he who loves wine and oil will not be rich.”
Americans have cable, cell phones, nice cars, etc, but also have more debt than assets, less than a 2% savings rate, and they no longer tithe. Over half of US consumer debt is owned by China. What does God think about that?
Proverbs 21:24 — “’Scoffer’ is the name of the arrogant, haughty man who acts with arrogant pride.”
The Bible uses the word “scoffer” 19 times. The word is mentioned in Proverbs 13 times. 2 Peter 3:3 says that “scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.” Scoffers are those who are too proud to humbly obey God. The Bible says that those people will increase.
Proverbs 21:25 – The desire of the sluggard kills him, for his hands refuse to labor.
“When many people envision Paradise, they picture Adam and Eve living a life of luxury and ease. Such a vision is not faithful to the biblical account of our first parents before their expulsion from Eden. Genesis 2:15 reads, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.” This word, to work (or to till), carries with it the connotation of industry and diligence. Man was not made to be idle but to employ his talents and gifts faithfully and diligently. Work itself is not a result of the Fall. The curse of the fall has made man’s work more difficult, and his flesh rails against it. The solution is not to long for a life of ease but to put one’s hand to the plow, to refrain from laziness, and to be diligent in one’s calling.
While all poverty is not due to negligence and laziness, much is. The Bible says, “If a man does not work, he will not eat” (2 Thess. 3:10). But how many in our society expect to eat when they are unwilling to work? The consequences of such laziness affects not only the individual, but entire communities and nations. Diligence in work not only advances an individual but a whole society. It frees people from ungodly dependence on others; whereas, laziness enslaves people and brings them to the lowest point in society. “‘He is perpetually needing counsel of others, and hanging upon it,’” Bridges wrote of the sluggard. “In the grand concern, he is the slave of his own lust; in the worst service, under the most degrading tyranny; ‘wicked’ because ‘slothful,’ and ‘cast out and condemned as an unprofitable servant’ (Matt. 25:26–30).” If a sluggard claims to be a Christian, his laziness casts a shadow on the blessed name of Christ. His testimony to the culture brings ridicule on Christianity in general. But how contrary is the testimony of an industrious and diligent person. What glory can you bring to the name of Christ as you work with commitment and diligence under the scrutiny of unbelievers? Live, then, in such a way that your commitment to hard work will cause others to praise God in heaven. Likewise, teach your children to despise laziness and find satisfaction and joy in work, so that a generation may be raised to the glory and praise of God.
Make specific changes in your life to fight laziness. This can include your vocation, physical exercise, and spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible study, attendance at worship, and service. If you have children, establish guidelines for housework, school work, and spiritual exercise to help them overcome laziness.” (Ligonier Ministries)
Proverbs 21:26 – “All day long he craves and craves, but the righteous gives and does not hold back.”
Christians overcome the cravings that destroy others by, in part, focusing on giving to others.
“Cross” Fit S-WOD (Spiritual Workout of the Day) – 21 May 22: As you walk in the freedom and confidence of grace today, freely give grace to others today as an act of faith, gratitude, and worship. Deny self, take up your cross, and follow Jesus in spirit AND in truth. Practically apply your theology. Fully accept your life mission as Christ’s Ambassador and as His reconciler. It takes faith to freely forgive and freely give to others who don’t deserve it; it takes a humble spirit that appreciates having received the unmerited gift of eternal life through Jesus. As you respond to circumstances and to other people today, consider your perspective – who is Jesus really to you? How you respond reveals what you truly believe to be true.